In 2001, the future CEO of LinkedIn Jeff Weiner was a hard-charging executive at Yahoo. A journalist described his management style as “wielding his fierce intelligence as a blunt instrument.” He describes himself as often getting frustrated when people didn’t do things the way he did. He would barrage them with questions and often focused more on what he was going to say instead of listening to what was being said. Rather than inspire and lift people up, he tended to shut them down. He admits that he wasn’t fun to work for.
Fast forward to 2019. Jeff Weiner is one of the top-ranked CEOs on Glassdoor with a 97% approval rating for the fifth year in a row. When asked what changed, he consistently uses one word: compassion.
His 2018 address to the Wharton School of the Business, “Be Compassionate,” is a must-read. It will help anyone understand how powerful compassion can be, at work and at home. He feels so strongly about the importance of compassionate leadership that he started The Compassion Project to teach compassion to elementary school students.
Compassion, simply explained, is empathy in action. And empathy is not sympathy, where you feel sorry for someone’s situation. Empathy is the ability to see a situation through someone else’s perspective; to walk in their shoes. Empathy is frequently cited as one of the most critical leadership competencies. Yet, Weiner focuses on compassion, not just empathy, because he feels it’s not enough to understand other’s perspectives. He thinks we have to take a step forward and ask: “What do you do differently as a leader to offer help and support as a result of that understanding?”
This week, demonstrating and encouraging compassion might be the most important thing you can do as a leader. As of this writing, it is still not crystal clear who will be the President of the United States. Everyone is worried about what will happen if the party they didn’t vote for wins. For some, the fact it is this close is devastating, no matter the ultimate outcome. Europe is heading back into strict lockdowns. Companies are still laying off thousands of workers. For those working or going to school in-person, they may be wrestling with the stress of outbreaks.
Now is the time in your career and in your life when you most need to find and use your compassion superpower. So, what should you do?
First, if you are worried that you aren’t that compassionate, take assurance that compassion can be learned and developed. To start, find out whether you are a compassionate leader by taking this quick quiz from the Harvard Business Review. The Greater Good in Action website from UC Berkeley gives practical, science-based exercises to develop that compassion muscle. Jane Dutton, author of Awakening Compassion at Work, also shared helpful advice with WeSpire early in the pandemic.
Second, if you are struggling to understand how different employees might be feeling about the election and what to do about it, read Diane Hessan’s extraordinary final op/ed piece after five years of research with voters: the Number One Priority We Have, No Matter Who Wins.
Finally, take the initiative for one-on-one dialogue and connection to learn and discern how you can help. Can they use help with refocusing or is there a task you can help with? Do they need to adjust their work schedule if they are back in full lockdown? Encourage people to also be compassionate with themselves. It has been quite a year. Simply getting through it, mentally, physically, and financially, will be quite an accomplishment.
Quote of the Week: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”Mother Teresa